The Environmental Impacts of E-commerce

There’s no denying that we all benefit from e-commerce. It combines our love of shopping with the accessibility and convenience of the internet, bonus points if free delivery is included!

During the COVID-19 pandemic e-commerce boomed, enabling businesses to successfully adapt to requirements and survive the lockdown era. It’s becoming increasingly rare to encounter a business that does not offer an online order and delivery service for their products. And while we’re all distracted by the appeal of same day delivery, it’s no surprise that many of us have never stopped to think about the affects e-commerce can have on the environment.

It may seem harmless but ordering those items in your basket from the comfort of your home may have unexpected consequences. In 2022, businesses of all industries and sizes are facing pressure from consumers and shareholders to find more environmentally conscious solutions in their business operations, and e-commerce is an excellent place to start.

In this article, we explore the negative impacts that e-commerce has on the environment as well as what actions we can take to reduce our environmental footprint.

How Does E-commerce Affect the Environment?

You might be wondering how adding another item to the shopping basket on your laptop can affect the environment. However, it’s not so much about online shopping as an activity, but rather what happens after, during the packing and delivery process.

Here are the 2 main ways e-commerce negatively affects the environment:

Over Packing

If you’ve ever had a package delivered to your home, you’ve undoubtedly experienced ‘over packing’.

For example, you’ve opened your package, which is an oversized cardboard box with your item rattling around in the corner, wrapped in unnecessary reems of paper or bubble wrap. You then have the hassle of trying to find room for all the packaging in your bins, but this whole thing could have been avoided simply by using less. This excessive use of packing materials to ensure the safe delivery of goods is having disastrous effects on the environment.

Producing the plastic materials that are used to package our e-commerce goods for delivery emits a large amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. When these plastics are discarded, they added to ever-expanding landfill sites, which pollute and destroy entire ecosystems. Nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging are discarded in the UK a year, with only 12% of single-use plastics being sent off for recycling.

In the UK, online sales contribute to almost 30% of overall sales, a figure which has more than doubled since 2011. In fact, the UK is the fourth e-commerce market in the world, contributing to its overall growth rate of 15% since 2021. With the success of e-commerce showing no signs of slowing down, we must look at ways to sustainably package products for our customers.

Shipping and Delivery

As the e-commerce market continues to grow, so, too, does the number of delivery vehicles required to keep up with shipping demands. This affects the levels of carbon dioxide that are emitted during the transportation and delivery of online orders.

One of the key issues of e-commerce is the offer of free delivery and fast shipping.

As more companies begin to offer same day shipping, companies are forced to send out delivery vehicles which are only half full to ensure that they meet the promised delivery times. This inefficient service not only generates more traffic, but also increases CO2 emissions.

Many companies also offer free returns on items, which creates an incentive for customers to make excessive purchases safe in the knowledge that they can just send it back if they’re not happy.

How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of E-commerce

While these negative affects paint a pretty grim picture of e-commerce, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are measures that businesses can take to reduce the environmental impact of their e-commerce services:

Recyclable Packaging

As efforts for companies to make eco-friendly choices increases, so do the options for sustainable packaging. There are a multitude of options available that are suitable for various goods, regardless of industry.

There are now green alternatives to plastics, include:

  • Corrugated packaging
  • Biodegradable foam packing peanuts
  • Corn-starch packaging
  • Recycled paper and cardboard.

Another option is bespoke packaging to fit the size and shape of the product exactly. Not only does this reduce the amount of packaging material used, but it also maximises the space available in delivery vans, making shipping more efficient.

Reduce Packaging Waste

As mentioned before, a lot of the environmental issues in e-commerce come from the excess of materials used during the shipping process. By ensuring that all items are packaged with an appropriate amount of material, companies can make a significant difference to the level of waste produced through e-commerce.

Eco-Friendly Delivery Vehicles

One way to reduce the level of CO2 emissions as a result of shipping is to reconsider the fleet of vehicles that are being used for delivery. For example, many businesses who are turning to greener alternatives have chosen to use electric vehicles for the delivery of goods in the ‘last mile’.

One way to reduce the level of CO2 emissions as a result of shipping is to reconsider the fleet of vehicles that are being used for delivery. For example, many businesses who are turning to greener alternatives have chosen to use electric vehicles for the delivery of goods in the ‘last mile’.

E-commerce Fulfilment Solutions from Allegro Logistics

At Allegro Logistics, we have over 60 years of experience as leading specialists in logistics and delivery. We offer an extensive range of e-commerce order fulfilment and shipping services to businesses of all industries and sizes.

Our clients can rely on us for

  • Contract packing
  • Domestic and international shipping
  • Returns management
  • Point-of-sale distribution
  • Subscription box fulfilment

If you have any questions about the services we provide or require a tailored solution to manage your order fulfilment, don’t hesitate to get in touch today.






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